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October 13, 2010

Latest 'Glee' episode hits high note with salute to legendary Judy/Barbra duet

It took me a while to get onto the "Glee" bandwagon, but I'm so glad I did. Sure, I'm still waiting for Will to teach these kids something at least sort of classical one day, just to stretch their eager little cords in another direction. But that's a minor disappointment.

This new season has already had some big peaks, including the "Grilled Cheesus" episode last week that led up, as I instinctively felt it would, to the strangely haunting Joan Osborne song, "One of Us."

That song always takes me back to 2002. It happened to be the first music I heard, inadvertently, after

staggering out of Messiaen's awesome "Saint Francoise d'Assise" at the San Francisco Opera. I walked into a restaurant totally dazed by that five-hour experience -- the incandescent music and the messages of what it means to believe, to doubt, to grow. What kept flashing in my mind was the scene at the end of Act 1, where St. Francis kisses a leper, one of the most riveting and goose bump-producing moments of music-theater I've ever experienced.

I was still reliving that incredible scene as I tried to focus on the menu in some nondescript diner when I suddenly realized what was coming through the speakers above me: "What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home." Talk about a sign.

So I loved how the "Glee" episode, having explored the diversity of faith and no faith among the singers, brought everything around at the end to "One of Us." I got chilled all over again.

And then along came this week's "Duets" episode, which couldn't have been more musically vibrant if it tried.

My favorite part about this series, I admit, is the way it works in so many great songs that are not likely to be on the average high-schooler's iPod. The covers of rock hits can certainly be cool, too (I thought Kurt's gentle version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" last week really clicked), but when the Broadway and movie music starts flying, well, so do I. And Monday's show delivered big time.

Kurt's deliciously extravagant take on "Le Jazz Hot" from "Victor/Victoria" was a highpoint. But when he teamed up at the end with Rachel to recreate, in extraordinarily sensitive style, one of the most iconic performances of pop music history, well, let's just say I got a little verklempt.

I love that "Glee" performers and audiences get so much exposure to so much great vintage popular music. That's got to be a good thing. Maybe uninitiated viewers will even get so intrigued by it they'll start exploring that heritage, discovering incomparable singers of earlier generations, expanding their musical horizons even more.

An ideal place to start (Rachel has been there all along, of course) is with Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. In case you've never seen it, or just need a fresh lift from it, here's the amazing duet from Judy's TV show in 1963 -- Streisand's signature version of "Happy Days Are Here Again," slowed down from its intended snappy tempo and given an ironic edge; Garland's "Get Happy," here molded to fit the introspective mood. Like I said, Rachel and Kurt nailed this Monday night, but it's always worth reliving the original:

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:08 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens


Welcome to the Glee Club, Tim! Nice musical analysis.

Thanks awfully. TIM

It seemed a bit of a reach, to squeeze in as many duets as they did. That they had any storyline at all running through was amazing. "Le Jazz Hot" was not so hot to me. Why did they burden him with that long, distracting fringe? I thought the number was too long, labored and not really part of the rest of the show.( It did underscore Kurt's efforts to put a flashy front on his loneliness.) Sorry.

The last duet- oh yeah. Those two are so talented, I am in constant awe.

I guess I just enjoyed the clever choice and over-the-topness of the Victor/Victoria number. And it is cool that they kept something of plot going through all of that.TIM

I am a woman in my 50's and I just LOVE Glee, the music, singing, dancing is all spectacular. HOWEVER, with that being said, I was very disappointed with this last episode. I found the scene with Santana & the "dumb blonde" making out in bed unnecessary and later the same "dumb blonde" climbing on top of Artie. I'm not stupid, I know kids in H.S. are having sex, but I don't think it needs to be portrayed so openly on a show that young girls are watching. It sends the wrong message, Say what you will, It's Not OK for this to be going on and the fact that Glee felt the need to include this in the show was too bad, the show is good enough without these unnecessary sex scenes.


There are times I think; they just went too far but, it's not supposed to be a REAL LIFE representation of high school or REAL student behaviors. It does reflect aspects of that general time in young people's lives with fantastic musical interruptions. ( If only they happened in real life.)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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